On November 4, 1995, 24-year-old law student Yigal Amir assassinated Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin by firing three bullets into his back.
The Bar Ilan University student was a long-time associate of the most radical advocates of fundamentalist Land of Israel messianism. Reportedly, he had made up his mind to murder Rabin back in September 1993 while watching the prime minister sign the Oslo Accords on the White House Lawn, with United States president Bill Clinton and Palestinian Liberation Organization chairman Yasser Arafat.
In the aftermath of Rabin’s assassination, a shell-shocked Israeli public attempted come to terms with how — and more importantly, why — this tragic event could have unfolded? How had the Jewish state become so divided and toxically embittered from within?
According to Rabin-era insider Itamar Rabinovich, who has just recently published “Yitzhak Rabin: Soldier, Leader, Statesman,” the rapid post-assassination political transformation that took place in Israel, spearheaded by current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, ensured that the necessary soul-searching of the Israeli public never actually took place — or was hijacked by a right-wing Knesset.
Rabinovich, who served as chief negotiator for Israel with Syria from 1992 to 1996, and also as Israel’s ambassador to the United States in the 1990s, says he doesn’t view Rabin’s assassination as one isolated event. Instead, it was part of a series of events that took place over a six-month period: from the murder itself in November 1995, to Netanyahu’s Likud national election victory in the spring of 1996 when Rabin’s Labor party, now under Shimon Peres, was defeated.
The 75-year-old Israeli, who is currently the president of the Israel Institute and Distinguished Global Professor at New York University, claims the center-left establishment in Israel from this period must take some responsibility, too. It essentially handed the vestiges of political power to the radical right on a platter.
“The [Labor] government from this time was wrong in not prosecuting the inciters [of hatred],” says Rabinovich. “The policy was to try and build a big tent in Israeli politics, and bring everyone in, and not to go after those who had incited the hatred. The result is that 20 years later, the radical right that opposed Rabin’s policies is now in government, and they dictate national policy.”
‘The [Labor] government from this time was wrong in not prosecuting the inciters [of hatred]’
If one wants proof of this, just take a look at recent events in Israel concerning the issue of settlements, Rabinovich insists defiantly: “Take the [recent] vote on the expropriation of Palestinian land, for example.” On February 6, 2017, the Knesset passed the controversial Regulation Bill, which paves the way for Israel to recognize some 4,000 illegally built settler homes.
The Likud, Rabinovich insists, has over the last two decades since Rabin’s death, notably been taken over by people who ideologically speaking, are closer to the National Religious Gush Emunim movement than to the traditional Likud base.
“I can draw a direct line from those six months [after Rabin’s murder] to present day developments in Israel,” says Rabinovich.
As Rabinovich writes in his latest book, in Gush Emunim’s world view— and in the theology of their rabbis— the Land of Israel is superior to the State of Israel, and no Israeli government has the authority to give away any part of it. Any government willing to do that, is, by Gush Emunim’s definition, illegitimate.